Film

Must Love Dogs (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

This family thing is looking rather grim now, as if it's about to swallow the rest of the movie whole.


Must Love Dogs

Director: Gary David Goldberg
Cast: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney, Stockard Channing
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-07-29

"I've been cheated, been mistreated. When will I be loved?" Opening a film with this Linda Ronstadt plaint isn't the most original way to set up the concept. But Must Love Dogs isn't into originality. It's into familiarity, security, and sameness. It's into retread.

And so, it sets up what you expect, namely, the premise that internet daters are desperate -- to be loved, to be hitched, to be no longer alone -- with a series of brief dater "confessions." (The fact that bar-hopping or singles-dancing or hanging around the water cooler is likely a less productive means to seek a mate is beside the point.) This not-so-new frontier is the film's gimmick, with a couple of actual dogs included as props.

Preschool teacher and divorcee Sarah (Diane Lane) doesn't want to think of herself as desperate. But her well-intentioned family -- dad Bill (Christopher Plummer), a bunch of brothers, and a couple of sisters, including Carol (the excellent and underappreciated Elizabeth Perkins) -- presses the point. Arriving in her kitchen armed with photos and phone numbers of the many available men they know, they crowd the frame and remain generally anonymous in the film. She dutifully tacks these tokens to her fridge, then cringingly removes them as soon as the fam is out the driveway, except for one dashing Ken doll type, just because she has to end the scene on a cutesy note: "What the hell?"

Sarah's resistance to dating dissolves as soon as Carol uploads her high school graduation photo and assorted data to a personal ad on the net. In this blandly suburban-Caucasian universe, the sisters cut and paste photos and lie about Sarah's appearance and interests in order to locate the ideal guy. When that guy turns out to be her dad -- in the promotional trailer's most prominent scene -- Sarah's daunted, less because of the yucky idea hat her "best match" is Bill, but because this tale will be "immortalized in family history," to be retold at holiday gatherings forever more. This family thing is looking rather grim now, as if it's about to swallow the rest of the movie whole.

As if to step back from these pressures, Sarah does meet a couple of men, Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the newly separated, extra cute father of a student, and Jake (the way-too-smart-for-formula-comedies John Cusack), loving crafter of wooden skulls (boats), dedicated to old-school designs and materials despite lack of sales. Lonely since his divorce, Jake spends most of his time now with his lawyer ("Lisa taught me about sadness," he says, I'm gonna owe her for the rest of my life"). Together they spend hours watching Doctor Zhivago (Jake's favorite movie because it's about "a love so real it hurts even after you're dead") or discussing Jake's dates.

Sarah, per generic prescription, has her own set of confidants, including her sisters, her father ("There's someone special out there for you, someone worthy"), the butcher (whom she snaps at when he tries to sell her more than a single chicken breast), one of her dad's new girlfriends, the dazzling Dolly (Stockard Channing). She exults in the internet's possibilities ("It's part fantasy, part community," she gushes, "And it lets you pay your bills naked"). Though her enthusiasm for internet chatting leads to a briefly awkward moment (a 15-year-old paramour arrives on her doorstep to pledge his troth), Dolly remains the film's charming periphery, wryly commenting on its increasingly rote center.

Sarah's cursory attraction to Bob doesn't produce much tension. His plain unsuitability is a function of formula, so you won't be disappointed by Sarah's eventual decision (the comedic staging of that decision, literally dunking her in a river, is dreadful). At the same time, it makes her eventual realization seem late and silly. Bob presents himself as an ideal guy, writing a biography of Robert E. Lee, playing David Cassidy songs on the piano ("Come on, get happy!"), wearing professory glasses, and tousling his adorable son's hair on cue. Yet he also puts on an irritating self-satisfaction, so clearly opposite of Sarah's perpetual distractedness and disquiet that their mismatch is never in question.

By comparison, Jake's self-doubting sincerity is mostly appealing, only slightly appalling. He comes on so intensely during a dinner with Sarah that even he knows to pause ("I'm scaring you right now, aren't I?"), before plunging ahead, urging her to be absolutely honest about what she wants, so they can get that part "out of the way." At moments like these, you're missing Cusack's own speedy-fresh Grosse Point Blank, because these regular pictures only limit his terrifically odd physical and verbal rhythms. Jake's not on screen enough, and why does he spend even a minute with the nubile, cheap-joke-in-a miniskirt Sherry (Jordana Spiro)? (Her egregiously dopey misunderstanding of Doctor Zhivago is only icing on an obvious cake.)

Jake is so patently Sarah's right choice ("You are kind of 'voluptuous,'" he notes, observing a dubious description in her internet ad, "in a minimalist kind of way"), that you wish he'd just abscond with the film altogether. (Do you really need to see Sarah interact with the butcher three times?) All her wheels-spinning and second-guessing only make Sarah look less "worthy."


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.